ASSEN, HOLLAND, JUNE 24: Coming into the season, Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden knew that he wouldn't be successful if he finished the first day of practice in the lower echelons, a problem he had for most of last season. In the first race in Qatar, Hayden was a respectable fifth. He bumped up to third when the series moved to Europe for the first stop in Jerez.. Then his progress was reversed. Seventh on day one at Le Mans, ninth at Mugello, and 10th out of 15 in Silverstone. The trend had to stop.On a glorious and atypically sunny day in Assen, Hayden finished the first day of practice for the 80th Dutch TT with the third fastest time. The lap of 1:35.686 was half a second down on pacemaker Jorge Lorenzo, the Fiat Yamaha rider who was only .011 of a second faster than Hayden's teammate Casey Stoner. The weekend will need to go at least as well if he's to narrow the gap, but for a first day effort Hayden was pleased."You know, everything went relatively smooth today," he said during his daily press scrum in the Ducati Marlboro hospitality complex. Hayden acknowledged that the previous two races hadn't gone well on the first day and that there was work ahead."The position's not bad, though the gap to the front feels like a lot considering that the bike was working pretty good and it's not like I can see five or six areas where we're just going to shave a half a second," he said. "So, worried, but not a bad start for Thursday. The track was a little different, though I liked it better. It was only one corner but it actually really changed about two or three, it changed that whole section."The Ruskenhoek left hand bend at the end of the 560 meter straightaway was adjusted by 13 meters, but it changed the personality of the track and led to swifter lap times. Because it's officially a new circuit, Lorenzo's lap of 1:35.169 was a new circuit best lap. The previous fastest lap was the 1:35.520 that Stoner ran to take the pole in 2008.Hayden said there were areas where he knew he could improve. The middle section of the track, T2 and T3, were "very manageable," but it was in T1 and T4 that he needs to improve, "and we got a couple ideas, so half a second's a lot around here, so we got a couple ideas. There was one corner, a few places, we definitely got a couple tenths."Stoner complained about not keeping heat in the rear tire and said he was going to use a stiffer swingarm to put more downforce into the rear. Hayden said he maintaining tire temperature wasn't an issue, and added that he had tried the swingarm at the Qatar pre-season test."I didn't have that problem today, but at Silverstone on Saturday morning when it was cold you lose some temperature," he said. He added that "the moment you would go around on the left side down those long straightaways, the temperature-you couldn't go hard your out lap-and the first lap they were, yeah, they were doing that a bit. Today I didn't have that problem at all."And if it did, at least he has some experience on the stiffer swingarm."It is something that I think it has some potential, especially around here where the track is really grippy and big loads on the tires," he said. "You can get away with running stuff that's a lot more stiff than you would at a little slippery [track], Donington or Laguna, something like that."

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Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.

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